In April I I had the privilege of spending 5 days in Taiwan at the invitation of a dear long-time colleague, Lin-Ching Hsia. She is a political leader, a community activist and a professor of psychology at Fu-jen Catholic University in Taipei Taiwan. We go back a long time (more than 15 years) with visits back and forth to our respective communities. We’re both activist scholars who’ve been at it for decades. And we like each other very much.
The April trip was part “psychology” and part electoral politics (another activity we share). Cathy Stewart, also a long-time friend and colleague who is an important leader of independent politics in the US, accompanied me and provided both the specifics and the big picture of the political situation in the US where over 40% of Americans have rejected a party and consider themselves independents. Professor Hsia’s group, which has been involved in electoral politics in Taiwan in the past, and is qualitatively and quantitatively expanding their work in this arena, organized our time together to insure we had substantive conversations about US and Taiwan politics that brought everyone someplace new.
A highlight of the psychology part of our activities was a conference Professor Hsia organized on social therapy and healing society (a very rough translation of the conference title). There were two speakers—Agness Khoo and me. Agnes is an experienced community organizer and humanitarian, orginally from Singapore who has worked with Hsia. Her talk concerned the impact of cold-war politics on individuals, families and society, focusing on Ghana (where she lives now), Singapore and Taiwan. It was full of information very few in the audience was aware of and a framing that was also something new for them. I was asked to share with the audience of 100 or so students, faculty and community workers social therapeutics and the life I live as a scholar-activist, to hopefully inspire them with new ideas for how to create their lives.
After my talk (which you can read here) we had about an hour of lively discussion. It was sparked by a wonderful commentary on my talk by sociology professor Po-Fen Tai, who was eager to learn more about how social therapy works, what I thought about non-professionals giving help and support to people who are suffering emotionally, and how I dealt with traditional research’s need for and insistence on “objectivity.”
In my talk, I characterized my life-long journey as an ongoing transformation of the relationship between researcher and organizer (and followed it up with dozens of specifics). Here’s some of what I said:
Researcher and organizer have some things in common. Both are essentially creative activities. Both involve bringing a grouping of people together for a common purpose. Researchers create in order to have something to say about the process, the results and/or the participants. As a young psychologist, I was a researcher who organized people in order to discover some things that might contribute to the knowledge base and ultimately be helpful to people, and to share that with others. Organizers, on the other hand, create things that you and the people you’re organizing have ownership of, and value. As an organizer your task is to directly activate people to create something, to change what is into something that’s becoming. Any discoveries that are made are inseparable from the organizing activity, inseparable from activity of creating whatever the people are creating. My journey has been from being a researcher who organizes to becoming an organizer who researches. Instead of organizing people enough to do good research, I now research enough to do good organizing.
Upon return to NY, I was delighted with the realization that this is another thing Lin-Ching Hsia and I have in common.